Derek found out later that Michaela had sent Jamie out there to cheer him up. Michaela and Jamie knew each other from clinicals and classes. Jamie hadn’t known who Derek was at the time, but she had heard what happened to him that day. After meeting Derek, Jamie took it upon herself to make sure he never forgot her.
Derek had one more day off where he could wait beside the hospital bed with Jamie, hoping and praying for her recovery, before he had to start taking personal days at work. He had built up some time for days off. He was just hoping to spend them with Jamie in different circumstances. Their fourth anniversary was quickly approaching and Derek was in the process of putting something together for it. He was planning on taking Jamie to a restaurant reminiscent of the one they went to on their first date. There was one on campus when they were in college, but Derek knew of a really nice one in the city. Unfortunately, with Jamie current state, he was unsure if they’d be doing much of anything for their anniversary.
Their first date was shortly after the night of the party. Derek had called Jamie and asked her out to dinner. Derek wanted to make a good impression. Ever since the night he met her, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He didn’t want to mess this up.
He took her to Morici, an Italian restaurant in downtown Normal. It was as high end as a college kid could get. Derek was wearing a nice blue button-down shirt with khakis and Jamie was wearing tight faded blue jeans, a dark gray knit sweater, and a scarf. Derek was nervous, but who isn’t on first dates? They got to their seats and Derek pulled Jamie’s out for her. She looked at him and down at the chair, confused at first, before realizing he was holding it out for her to sit. “Oh, right,” she said. “I forgot people do that,” she giggled and sat down.
The restaurant had a warm atmosphere. Dark furnished wooden tables, lights dimmed enough to see but really to accentuate the dark stained tables and counters. A small candle was featured in each table setting to give it a classic romantic aura. There were other couples around them, almost all of them appeared to be in their fifties. It wasn’t long before Derek realized they were the youngest patrons dining that night.
Derek and Jamie made the initial small talk of a first date. What they were studying, where they were from, hobbies, interests, covering the bases. She was studying to be a nurse, he was studying criminal justice. She was from a suburb outside of the city but always wanted to live in the city. He grew up in the city and didn’t have any intention to leave. They both loved hockey and Derek even came to find that Jamie loved baseball too. He was even more impressed when the waiter came to ask for their drink orders. Too many college girls ask for wine like it’s a requirement. Some do it because they like the taste but many do it because they’re putting up the facade of class like suburban housewives. Jamie ordered a German beer he couldn’t pronounce. She recommended he order one, too. They both now share a favorite beer.
Derek was doing his best to keep the conversation interesting. While they were talking, he noticed his hands were very shaky. Not very noticeable, but it had caused him to tip his glass once or twice. Derek ordered chicken florentine and Jamie got spaghetti with meatballs. They both devoured their food, barely getting a word in. When the meals were done and the check came, Derek reached for it and found Jamie tugging at the other end.
“It’s okay, I got it,” said Derek.
“Split it,” Jamie said quickly.
“No, that’s okay. I’ll pay,” said Derek, trying to get the check out of Jamie’s hand.
Jamie let go of the check and sat back. “I got the tip. And next time, I get the check,” she said with her eyes narrowed and her lips pulled into a tiny grin.”
“Deal.” Derek really didn’t care about paying for the check. Every date he’d been on before, he paid for everything. Some women might offer to pay but actually, have no intention of doing so. He could see in Jamie’s eyes she had every intention of paying. When the guy pays for everything, Derek thought, it makes you feel like you’re just some schlub paying for the woman’s company. When the woman actually does pay, even half, it puts the date and relationship on more of an even keel. As a guy, it lets you know your number isn’t just saved on a girl’s phone under “Free Food.”
As they left the restaurant, they walked aimlessly through downtown Normal. It has a few shops and a movie theater, but the real draw of it is how the roundabout in the middle of the business district and the roads leading in and out are lined with various Christmas lights. While all the businesses were starting to close and the town was going to hibernate for the night, the well-lit streets and trees shined through the night. As the first snowfall of the year began to come down on the streets, melting the moment the flakes touched cement, Derek and Jamie could see the lights’ reflections shimmering off the buildings. They walked along the buildings, about a foot of space between them. Derek had his hands in his pockets and Jamie had hers crossed over her chest, both studying their feet as they strolled. Jamie turned her head.
“Do you want to come over, maybe watch a movie?”
Derek peeked down at her, her bright green eyes looking up expectantly. “Sure.”
Derek could see Jamie smiling in his periphery. Jamie then slid her arm under his, holding it with both hands and hugging it as they walked back to her apartment. Jamie held him tight and Derek could feel his chest-thumping faster.
As they made their way to Jamie’s apartment, it felt like the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees. Jamie’s sweater couldn’t have been doing much because Derek was wearing a NorthFace jacket and he was feeling every gust of wind that blew by. They still had a few blocks to go and Jamie, who at first seemed to be holding him for the sake of doing so, now seemed to be holding Derek for warmth. Derek stopped and began to unzip his jacket.
“What’re you doing?” asked Jamie, holding her elbows with her sleeves pulled over her hands.
“You’ve got to be freezing, take this,” Derek said, but the zipper was stuck and he couldn’t seem to get it undone.
“No, I’ll be fine. It’s only a few more blocks,” said Jamie, but Derek was still struggling and was intent on giving Jamie his jacket.
“Please, I can’t have you freezing your butt off while I have a jacket,” Derek said, still fussing with the zipper. Jamie stepped towards him and pushed his hands away, undoing the zipper in one motion. They both laughed. Derek wriggled out of his jacket. As he did, he felt the icy air bite through his shirt and he couldn’t help but shiver. He then wrapped the jacket around Jamie and she zipped it up to her chin. She then grabbed his arm like she had before and they kept walking as Derek shivered with almost every step.
“You know,” Jamie started. “You don’t have to try so hard, I already like you,” she said, looking forward to conceal her smile.
Derek didn’t say a word, but as they walked he couldn’t conceal his.